9 More Supposedly Healthy Things That Are Actually Hurting You

My recent list of 10 Supposedly Health Things That Are Actually Hurting You was so popular, it got me thinking about even more things that we do for our health — but shouldn't. The more I learn, the more I think that the safest thing to do is not try to be healthy at all. So please pass the Girl Scout cookies, and I'll be in the TV room, staying healthy.

1. Douching

Although many women see regular douching as an important hygienic measure, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends against it, warning that it can lead to yeast and bacterial infections.

2. Internal Steam Baths

As if the false promises of the douche weren't bad enough, good old Gwyneth Paltrow recently mystified and confused women everywhere by recommending the Mugwort V Steam, a spa treatment that steam cleans the vagina.

"The lactobacilli strains that keep vaginas healthy are very finicky about their environment and raising the temperature with steam... is likely not beneficial and is potentially harmful," wrote OB/GYN Jennifer Gunter. I guess it's the word of a consciously uncoupled actress against the doctor's — believe who you will.

3. Coconut Oil

For a while, it was dietary dogma that all fats were bad for you. Then we started hearing about health benefits from certain fats, and lately, the golden fat is coconut oil. It is supposed to do everything from burning body fat to killing germs to lowering cholesterol. The truth is, researchers say, a lot more studies are needed before we really know whether eating this saturated fat is a net positive or negative for your health.

For now, let's just say that coconut oil may not deliver on the health claims you have heard about, but like all fats, it is guaranteed to provide your body with nine calories per gram. And it's guaranteed to be harder on your wallet than many other oils.

4. Low-Fat Packaged Foods

There are low-fat versions of just about every packaged food nowadays, from soup to cereal to yogurt. But did you ever wonder what food manufacturers do to foods to make them palatable with less fat? Read the ingredients and you may get an eyeful, such as really high amounts of sugar, sodium, or unpronounceable flavor agents.

5. Diet Drinks

Switching from regular Coke to Diet used to be considered a healthy move. And cutting back on the sugar that comes in a soft drink is good for you. But mounting evidence warns that even "natural" artificial sweeteners may be dangerous, primarily due to a link to diabetes. Artificial sweeteners may damage the microflora in our guts, too, and their super-sweet taste may increase our desire for sweets. Diet soda consumption is also linked to heart attack risk, tooth decay, and other ills.

6. Annual Mammograms Starting at 40

On my 40th birthday, my mother reminded me to make my first mammogram appointment. I didn't, and here's why: New research suggests that women who start annual mammograms at that age expose themselves to an amount of radiation and stressful false positives that is not worth the reduction in cancer deaths.

Women with a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors are still advised to get the test early and often, but for "a woman with lower risk, it might make sense to start later or screen every other year," Diana Zuckerman, PhD, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families, told Prevention.

7. Baby Powder

Fortunately, many powders on the market today are no longer made with talc, a mineral product that could cause lung damage if inhaled. But non-talc powders or even plain cornstarch can still be inhaled, and women who use talcum powder around their genitals may be putting themselves at risk for cancer.

8. Homework

Most parents are annoyed by their kids' homework; it cuts into limited family time and, in many families, leads to endless power struggles. But parents put up with it because it's for the kids' own good.

Or is it? A Stanford study concluded that current homework levels "hinder learning, full engagement, and well-being," by causing students stress and sleep deprivation, and cutting into time to develop life skills.

Sure, you say, but what if the harm caused by homework is offset by its benefits? The thing is, experts are hard pressed to prove that homework benefits students. At all.

9. Some Sunscreens

Wearing sunscreen outdoors is strongly recommended by dermatologists, and yet doctors warn that some ingredients in sunscreens could be hazardous to your health. The Environmental Working Group recommends against spray-on sunscreens, and those that contain oxybenzone or vitamin A.

What supposedly healthy thing have you learned is actually harmful? Please warn us in comments!

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Guest's picture

Nice article with some great points, thanks for the good info. I would like to add to the part about mammograms at 40. I am one of the few women (I think it was 1,000 women statistically who would miss a timely diagnosis) who would be dead if I had had listened to the new recommendations. No risks, no family history. I just knew something was wrong in my body. For my nickel, thermography would be better than doing nothing & a plus, no radiation, no mashing.